Good Sunday afternoon, all.
Thanks to those of you who joined me for the live blogs from Section Semifinal Saturday at the Rec Center yesterday. If you would like to read a replay of any of the live blogs from yesterday, they can all be found here.
If you can't make it to Thursday's Section 1A final between Lourdes and New Prague, I'll be back on the live blog at 6:45 p.m. Just log on to PostBulletin.com and click the link on the homepage. Or, you can go to the link I provide above.
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After three-and-a-half months of hockey, the Section 1A and 1AA tournaments are down to the teams that we thought would be here.
In 1AA, we'll have a rematch of last year's all-Lakeville section title game. A year ago, North upset top-seeded South to get to the state tournament. Can the Panthers do it again? They've lost to South twice already this season, by three goals each time. Second-seeded North's best shot at a second consecutive upset of No. 1 seed South is to stop the high-powered scoring trio of Justin Kloos, Drew Brevig and Alex Harvey.
North and South are scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. Friday at the Rochester Rec Center for the section championship. ... Maybe later this week we'll get into the whole issue of two Lakeville schools having to come to Rochester to play in a section final.
In 1A, No. 3-ranked and top-seeded Rochester Lourdes is back in position to go to state for a third consecutive season. Standing in their way: third-seeded New Prague.
The Eagles will make their fourth consecutive appearance in the section title game. They lost three years ago to Mankato West and beat Red Wing each of the past two years. The Eagles advanced to this year's section final by ending the Wingers season for a third straight year, 4-2, on Saturday. New Prague advanced to the tite game with a 4-1 win against Albert Lea.
Lourdes and New Prague will play at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Rec Center. If New Prague plays like it did in the first period on Saturday, it will give Lourdes all it can handle. These teams have some history, too, which we'll get into more as the week goes on. Lourdes has knocked New Prague out of the playoffs each of the past three years, and each time in the section semifinal round.
* But, back to Saturday's games at the Rec. It's usually one of the most entertaining days of the hockey season around here, but none of the four games on Saturday provided much drama or excitement. The building was never more than half full, either, and there wasn't a single band there all day. The atmosphere was flat and that, I believe, had an impact on several teams.
Both of the Section 1AA games were effectively over after the first period. North led Century 4-0 after one period, scoring twice in the final 2 minutes of the period to zap any momentum Century had gained. South led Farmington 3-0 after one and outshot the Tigers 25-2 in the first 17 minutes. Both games resulted in 7-0 final scores.
Century players said they had a good practice on Friday, after an emotional victory Thursday night against rival Mayo. Century actually had good energy right off the bat, but the Panthers had some miscues they couldn't afford.
First, they took four penalties in the first period. North only scored on one power play, but it kept many of Century's top players on the ice in penalty killing situations. It was energy Century couldn't afford to use. Second, Century gave up too many odd-man rushes. I counted five in the first period alone, and at least three of those were the direct result of North forwards blocking shots by Century d-men near the blue line.
A number of Century players were visibly hurting (emotionally) after the game, especially several underclassmen, who had a strong bond with this group of seniors. It was a tough year for Century, with so many players battling injuries and illnesses.
Senior Matt Mills unfortunately had injuries cost him a good portion of the season, including the playoffs. Junior Blake Heroff was in and out of the lineup all season with a nasty hip injury. He rested and iced it as much as he could; he'll have surgery about a month from now. I've been told it's the same injury that cost former Century goalie Alex Kangas his season with the Gophers this year.
The gratifying part of this season for the Century coaching staff has been the past couple of weeks, watching how some seniors were playing their best hockey (coach Bruce Frutiger gave a big nod to d-man Joe Canakes, who had a huge goal in the first period of the Mayo game). We sure can't forget d-man Nick Raehsler or goalie Cam Sellnow. Those guys have been a big part of the program for three years; both played in the state tourney as sophomores and were there game-in, game-out this season, doing what the coaches asked.
* OK, on to the Section 1A side.
The Lourdes-Red Wing game was close for a couple of periods, but with the way Lourdes was playing defense, I never got the feeling that the Eagles were in jeopardy.
Coach Josh Spaniol could sense the Eagles were a bit flat when he entered the locker room before warmups, but, he said, they were able to fight through it. Jason Samuelson had two goals, one set up nicely by Alex Funk. Senior D Rory Vesel also had a nice individual effort on his unassisted goal in the second period. And Andy Benner got Lourdes on the board with a nice play while forechecking at the end of a penalty kill. He took the puck away from a Wingers player, skated in and beat Red Wing goalie Sam Amendolar five-hole.
In the other 1A final, New Prague jumped on Albert Lea early and the Big Nine Conference-champion Tigers never really recovered. The Trojans scored twice in the first five minutes of the game, then Curt Brezina scored twice in a five-minute span early in the second for a 4-0 lead.
Albert Lea had some good chances, and actually tied New Prague with 34 shots on goal in the game, but either the Tigers shot the puck high or wide, or Trojans goalie Joe Morris robbed them.
Morris could be the great equalizer in Thursday's section final. He was outstanding in the first period against Albert Lea. Had he not been at his best, that could have been a 2-2 game after one; then who knows what happens.
When the teams met in the regular season, Lourdes beat New Prague, 3-1, at Graham Arena, back on Dec. 7. Lourdes scored twice in the final 4:12 of the first period that day, both on the power play, and never trailed. Both teams put 21 shots on goal in that game. Both teams are obviously playing better now than they were at that time, but based on what we saw Saturday, I'd expect another close game on Thursday.